The future of three controversial Winnipeg head shops is hazy following a series of police raids and seizures linked to an ongoing investigation.
At least two people were taken into custody Wednesday as the RCMP and Winnipeg police executed search warrants at The Joint locations on St. Mary's Road, Pembina Highway and Marion Street. Police also backed a U-Haul truck up to the locations and appeared to remove numerous items from inside.
No details on the operation have been released publicly. An RCMP spokesperson said they will likely be more forthcoming Thursday. Winnipeg police said they were assisting the Mounties and declined to comment.
Sources told the Free Press the case largely involves product copyright and licensing issues. Canada Revenue Agency officials are also involved.
According to their website, The Joint has a new location in Saskatoon in addition to the three Winnipeg stores.
Their slogan is "The Dopest Headshop on the Prairies" and they boast of carrying "a wide range of smoking paraphernalia including but not limited to bongs, pipes, bubblers, Winnipeg's largest selection of poppers and bluntarillos, vaporizers, bowls, grinders, scales, baggies, stash containers, detox kits, hookahs and more."
Wednesday's police presence will no doubt be welcomed by the head shops' neighbours.
"It downgrades the community. When they're smoking pot, the smell wafts over to us and gives us headaches," said Brian Tavares, the assistant manager of Herat Foods next to the Pembina head shop.
In addition to the constant smell, he said customers of his halal grocery store have frequently complained about being subjected to racist taunts from The Joint's staff and customers.
"They call us terrorists," he said Wednesday. "We have a lot of families, a lot of elderly customers. This is clearly not beneficial to the community."
The city has taken aim at head shops in recent years, mandating that anyone who operates such a business must apply for a licence and go through a public-hearing process. The policy does not ban pipes, bongs, papers or any stores that sell them.
The intention is to slow or prevent the proliferation of head shops, especially in the suburbs, where they act as "harbingers of decay," St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves, the chairman of council's property committee, said in 2010 when the issue was first raised.
"This has nothing to do with city council passing judgment on people's choices. The problem that exists is the stores themselves," Steeves said.
Bart Stras, co-owner of The Joint, told the Free Press at the time there was no need for increased scrutiny of his type of business.
"The whole scope of that is absolutely ridiculous," he said. "It's our government trying to have a little too much control. I don't understand why they want to spend valuable money trying to regulate our industry, which isn't really that big in Winnipeg in the first place. They're really blowing something out of proportion that isn't even there."
Stras couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
There are about eight head shops in Winnipeg and about a half-dozen stores where marijuana paraphernalia sales are part of the business.